A story in Golfweek magazine last fall spoke to the changing culture of opportunity in NCAA Division I and II collegiate women's golf.
After years of riding the wave of the widely shared perception that the easiest path to an athletic scholarship among high school girls was via a fairway, college golf coaches at those levels are dialing back significantly on the message. They still have scholarships to give (the equivalent of six fulls in Division I and 5.4 in Division II), but few — if any — are sitting idle and, at least in Division I, those that are awarded are given only to those who pass rigorous standards.
“I am so glad you are doing a story on this because I am so tired of hearing this,” Boise State head coach Nicole Bird told Golfweek's Beth Ann Nichols, whose story tried to clear up those expired thinking. “Parents in women’s golf expect a full ride, no matter how good (or bad) their daughter is because they think there is an overwhelming number of scholarships available.”
Indeed, as Hartland Arrowhead export Emily Lauterbach — the No. 1 golfer in Wisconsin.Golf's girls class of 2019 — gets set to leave for the University of Wisconsin next month, the burning question among families with girls in the next three classes is this: When will we see another homegrown Badger?
Many would like to think that Green Bay's Jo Baranczyk — still our No. 1 golfer in the Class of 2021 — has shown enough potential to start the summer to warrant at least some interest from the state's flagship Division I program. Either way, Baranczyk is busily pursuing multiple options and told me last month she hopes to make a college decision by year's end.
UW-Green Bay's Lee Reinke, in three short years since adding the title of women's golf coach to what is now a director of golf title for the Phoenix, has done a masterful job with each of his three recruiting classes of bringing in seven in-state golfers whose best golf was ahead of them. UWGB will have just one senior this fall — Oconomowoc's Alix Larson — but, due in part to injuries to Beaver Dam's Ashley Kulka and Verona's Lauren Shorter that caused them to redshirt in 2018-19, there won't be an abundance of opportunity in Reinke's women's program for incoming freshmen until the fall of 2021.
As we unveil the first mid-year updates to our annual November rankings, there is one area of college golf that does have a wealth of opportunity that matches up well the level of talent emerging in the next three classes.
The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which has enjoyed some of its best and most balanced competition over the last three years, graduates the most impactful class in WIAC history next spring when two-time defending champion UW-Whitewater, UW-Stout and UW-Oshkosh bid farewell to some of their most decorated golfers. Whitewater's Ashley Hofmeister, CheyAnn Knudsen and Kelly Storti, Stout's Trystin Kluess, Madison McCambridge and Alexa Filipiak and Oshkosh's Hannah Braun have taken turns helping their teams set school records and raise the bar for NCAA Division III golf in Wisconsin. But by this time next year they will be gone.
Unfortunately, to this point, many junior golf families over the past 10 years have wrinkled their nose at the suggestion Division III golf will give them any kind of return on their investment of time and money that they have made in junior tournaments designed to give their daughters a shot at Division I and II scholarships. Many of those who have gone Division I, Division II or bust then find limited or no playing opportunities at the Division I level and Division II experiences that lose a lot of their luster (or vanish entirely) after the signing ceremony.
However, even national scouting services are now touting the virtues of Division III options. On its Website, the Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) reports that 80 percent of Division III athletes receive non-athletics aid, often in the form of grants, merit-based and/or need-based scholarships to academically qualified athletes. In addition, 87 percent of Division III athletes graduate.
Like Division II programs, which tend to offset money invested in its athletic scholarships by short-changing the salaries given to their coaches, Division III opportunities require the same degree of homework with regard to quality of academic and athletic programs, overall resources, proven ability of coaches to make their golfers better and chances for success in a given conference.
By the way, WIAC schools haven't cornered the market on Division III opportunity.
Carthage College in Kenosha has finished second the last four years to Illinois Wesleyan in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin. UW-Superior brought back women's golf in 2015 after it left the WIAC and won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference in its first year in the conference. Schools in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference have yet to crown a conference champion with a 54-hole score under 1,000 so simple math suggests all it would take for schools such as Concordia-Mequon, Edgewood College (Madison), Lakeland University (Sheboygan) or, starting in 2020, St. Norbert (De Pere), would be four scores of 85 or better all three days.
Based on the early returns of Wisconsin's girls Class of 2020, those kind of opportunities might be worth pursuing. Wauwatosa's Rachel Kauflin and Franklin's Mallory Swartz have orally committed to Central Michigan and Bowling Green State, respectively, drawn by the potential to make a swift impact at second-division programs in the Mid-American Conference. It is unlikely the golfers ranked behind them will draw greater interest.
Of course, whether a golfer is ranked first or 50th, a college opportunity ultimately becomes what is made of it.
That's one quality that did emerge in all four classes for which we have updated our rankings. There are a lot of golfers quietly doing the little things to improve their place in their class.
Here are a few quick observations:
Class of 2019: Lauterbach continues to set a high bar, but Hayward native Gabby Tremblay, who spent her final two years of high school at Shattuck St. Mary's, a private school in Minnesota, showed she has tremendous potential. The Creighton recruit shot 76-79 at the Wisconsin State Women's Open last month and finished tied for seventh. ... This rankings update reflects the work done by girls playing on boys golf teams in the spring and that group was led by Sheboygan Lutheran senior Emma Egbert, who helped the Crusaders place third in the WIAA Division 3 state tournament; and Wabeno-Laona's Grace Warrner, who qualified for the state tournament individually. Egbert will attend Colorado State and study bio-mechanical engineering but not play golf; Warrner will compete at UW-Stout this fall.
Class of 2020: Swartz has gotten her summer off to a blistering start, highlighted by the opportunity to play in the final group the final day at the Wisconsin State Women's Open, where she tied for fourth. She liked what she saw of Bowling Green and committed once offered a scholarship opportunity last week. Kauflin got off to somewhat of a slow start, which is understandable given that she and her father spent U.S. Open week as a standard bearer and walking scorer, respectively, at Pebble Beach (Calif.). She started to show her form again this past week at the inaugural Wisconsin Dells Junior Championship, where she shot 73-76 to win by 10 shots over 2021 No. 3 Caylie Kotlowski of Stoughton.
Class of 2021: Baranczyk has become the rock of this class and, already this summer, shown a better consistency than she has in past years. The big question remains: What level of college opportunity will that earn her by the time she would like to make a decision at the end of the 2019 golf season. No. 2 Elise Hoven, one of the hardest-working golfers in any class, is starting to show signs of taking her game to the next level. Stoughton's Kotlowski has perhaps the greatest physical potential of anyone in this class, but it remains to be seen how long Division I college coaches give her to show them that she can take it low with the consistency they want to see.
Class of 2022: Sarah Balding's appearance in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club the week before The Masters cemented her name as the No. 1 golfer among this year's freshmen. There has already been a lot of movement this summer among the golfers behind her as they attempt to determine how much competitive golf to play and how rigorous to make their schedules. Inevitably, less is more among the younger classes as they build around the two solid months of daily golf during the high school season.